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The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010)

by Edmund de Waal

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 86 (next | show all)
Edmund de Waal’s beautifully descriptive account follows his Russian Jewish family from Odessa where, after making their fortunes in the grain business, his great-great-grandfather Ignace von Ephrussi and Ignace’s older brother, Leon Ephrussi, emigrate with their families—Ignace to Vienna, Leon to Paris. Both men become extremely wealthy, building and living in palaces where they raise their children, make names for themselves, and become part of fashionable society. When Edmund inherits his great-uncle Ignace’s beautiful 264 piece Japanese netsuke collection, his curiosity about the original collector of these valuable pieces of art, Charles Ephrussi, a son of the above-mentioned Leon, inspires him to begin his search through the past in Paris. From Paris, where Leon’s branch of the family settles, to Vienna where Ignace von Ephrussi builds the magnificent Palais Ephrussi for Edmund’s own branch of the family, the author takes us on a journey through the generations that is rich with 19th and 20th century European history. From the mid-1800s in Vienna and Paris, the two branches of the wealthy Ephrussi family continue to prosper; Ignace becomes a powerful banker in Vienna where his bank and his five-story Palais Ephrussi sit on the famous Ringstrasse. From the beginning the Ephrussi’s struggle with their Jewishness, but manage to climb in stature and position amidst a Caucasian European population. With the onslaught of Hitler’s Nazi regime, however, it all comes tumbling down. Yet somehow most of the family survive the camps, although they lose everything else—their funds, the palaces, banks, furniture and art work. Through a strange twist of events, the netsuke collection survives, ending up in Japan, where Charles began his collection. The author’s grandmother, Elizabeth, gives the netsuke to her brother Ignace Ephrussi (Iggy) after they are rediscovered after the war. This is an amazing story of family success, love affairs, pride, loss, defeat and revival. And woven through it all is the story of the netsuke; how they are maintained by the family; how they eventually come into the possession of Edmund de Waal, who shares their story with us with skill and loving regard to detail. Written in first person, present tense, de Waal’s book brings the past to life in a very unique way. An easy to follow family tree is to be found in the book’s front pages. I rarely give a book five stars, but this family account earns every one. ( )
  suztales | May 13, 2015 |
Acquired 2014
  jgsgblib | May 11, 2015 |
As someone who is into their genealogy, yet from a family of people who barely left their mark on the world, I found this book fascinating. It covers art history, the holocaust, how Jews had their works of art stolen and how the dispersed families managed to fit in their new countries, de Waal pays a great tribute to his ancestors: it is the kind of book I'd love to write about my ancestors. ( )
  martensgirl | Mar 3, 2015 |
When Edmund de Waal inherited a priceless collection of 264 netsukes—japanese miniatures made from ivory depicting animals and scenes of everyday life—from his great uncle, Iggie, who told him how he had played with them as a child in his mother's dressing room with his siblings, the author decided to set aside his own work as a world-renowned potter and curator to travel to the places which would help him uncover the rich family history from which he descends, and of which the netsukes were the only memento of the dynasty which were the vastly wealthy Jewish Ephrussi family, rich grain merchants originally from Odessa who had become powerful bankers in Europe and who were peers to the Rothschild family, only to lose everything to the Nazis.

His tale is a sweeping saga, which starts in the 19th century with the magnetic Charles Ephrussi, the original collector of the netsukes, an art collector and patron who admired and promoted the impressionists when they were still considered as radicals, and who purchased some 40 works by Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, and Pissarro, among others, and became part-owner and then editor and contributor to the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, the most important art historical periodical in France. As such, he was a welcome guest at some of the most famous salons in Paris and is known to be one of the inspirations for the figure of Swann in Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time). He also appears in Le déjeuner des canotiers (Luncheon of the Boating Party) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir as the figure seen from the back wearing a hat. But things abruptly changed with the Dreyfus affair in 1894, when the French took sides and anti-semitism became widespread. Suddenly, many old friends were lost and became sworn enemies.

De Waal continues the family history, following the path of the nestukes, who came into the hands of Charles's niece as a wedding present. Iggie's mother and the author's great grandmother was a great one for going to the opera and dinner parties wearing fashionable gorgeous dresses with perfectly matched hats and gloves, which her maid Anna always knew how to help her choose and bring off with the perfect piece of jewelry, and always, as she dressed, the children were allowed to play on the yellow rug with the priceless collection of tiny netsuke she kept in the cabinet placed in her dressing room which uncle Charles had given her. The First World War had been hard enough to get through, but then the Nazis came into power and for all of them, the enchanted world at the Palais Ephrussi was shattered forever, as they were turned out of their living quarters and their possessions taken over by the Reich, and the horrors of the holocaust forced them to flee in all directions. I rarely cry when reading a book, but I cried when Anna, after the war is over, reveals to Elizabeth, the author's grandmother, how it is she managed to smuggle the netsuke figures one by one from under the Natzi's very noses in safekeeping as a valuable memento she could salvage for the family for which she had worked all her life. ( )
8 vote Smiler69 | Feb 26, 2015 |
This book follows the life of a set of Japanese netsuke (miniature sculptures). Although it sounds as though it might be dull, it is actually very interesting, because it also follows the fortunes of a great family of merchants, beginning in Odessa, through Paris, Vienna and then back to Japan, focussing in turn on the lives of each custodian of the netsuke, and providing a fascinating picture of life for the prosperous (and later of Jews during the Second World War) in each of the great cities at the relevant time. Despite my expectations (I ended up with the book quite by accident), it held my interest to the end. ( )
  kmstock | Jan 31, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 86 (next | show all)
What happened to the hare with amber eyes, and the carved medlar that almost felt as if it might squish when handled, after their return from Japan? De Waal bought them a secondhand vitrine from the V&A and set it up in his London house, its door unlocked so his own children could play with its contents. "Objects have always been . . . stolen, retrieved and lost. It is how you tell their stories that matters." He has told their story wonderfully. Oh, and this is a beautiful and unusual book, as a physical object. Somebody really cared.

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Edmund de Waalprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boraso, MarinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cohen, MarceloTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eklöf, MargaretaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hilzensauer, BrigitteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnová, LucieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lempens, WillekeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miró, CarlesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prosperi, CarloTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rugstad, ChristianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sasada, MasakoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'Even when one is no longer attached to things, it's still something to have been attached to them; because it was always for reasons which other people didn't grasp...Well, now that I'm a little too weary to live with other people, these old feelings, so personal and individual, that I had in the past, seem to me - it's a mania for all collectors - very precious. I open my heart to myself like a sort of vitrine, and examine one by one all those love affairs of which the world can know nothing. And of this collection to which I'm now much more attached than to my others, I say to myself, rather as Mazarin said of his books, but in fact without the least distress, that it will be very tiresome to have to leave it at all.'
Charles Swann.

Marcel Proust, 'Cities of the Plain'.
For Ben, Matthew and Anna
and for my father.
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In 1991 I was given a two-year scholarship by a Japanese foundation.
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Book description

Paris 1871-1899 -- Vienna 1899-1938 -- Vienna Kövecses, Tunbridge Wells, Vienna 1938-1947 -- Tokyo 1947-2001 -- Tokyo, Odessa, London 2001-2009.
Haiku summary
Mansions, power, art / Exile, stolen dignity / Netsuke bear witness (LynnB)

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312569378, Paperback)

Amazon Best of the Month, September 2010: At the heart of Edmund de Waal's strange and graceful family memoir, The Hare with Amber Eyes, is a one-of-a-kind inherited collection of ornamental Japanese carvings known as netsuke. The netsuke are tiny and tactile--they sit in the palm of your hand--and de Waal is drawn to them as "small, tough explosions of exactitude." He's also drawn to the story behind them, and for years he put aside his own work as a world-renowned potter and curator to uncover the rich and tragic family history of which the carvings are one of the few concrete legacies. De Waal's family was the Ephrussis, wealthy Jewish grain traders who branched out from Russia across the capitals of Europe before seeing their empire destroyed by the Nazis. Beginning with his art connoisseur ancestor Charles (a model for Proust's Swann), who acquired the netsuke during the European rage for Japonisme, de Waal traces the collection from Japan to Europe--where they were saved from the brutal bureaucracy of the Nazi Anschluss in the pockets of a family servant--and back to Japan and Europe again. Throughout, he writes with a tough, funny, and elegant attention to detail and personality that does full justice to the exactitude of the little carvings that first roused his curiosity. --Tom Nissley

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:06 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Traces the parallel stories of nineteenth-century art patron Charles Ephrussi and his unique collection of 360 miniature netsuke Japanese ivory carvings, documenting Ephrussi's relationship with Marcel Proust and the impact of the Holocaust on his cosmopolitan family.… (more)

» see all 9 descriptions

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